Psychological Testing in the Service of Disability Determination


Professionals working in the mental health field have sought to measure people’s personalities to understand why they behave in specific ways. Projective and objective methods of personality measurement are the most common methods of assessment (Gregory, 2014). Objective methods, such as measures of self-reporting, depend on the personal responses of people and thus are relatively free of bias. In objective personality tests, the term “objective” refers to the method that is being used for scoring the responses of people rather than being applied to responses themselves.

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According to Meyer and Kurtz (2007), the objectiveness of the procedure is associated with the fact that a psychologist does not need to depend on judgment to interpret the responses of their subjects. Therefore, objective methods of personality assessment involve the administration of tests with a limited set of answers, which implies a standardized and predetermined way (U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, 2006).

The first example is the self-report measure, which implies the process of self-rating. For instance, a Likert-type scale can be used for responders to rank their attitudes toward provided statements. The second example is informant ratings, which imply the provision of information about a person by a third party that knows the personality and behaviors of the individual in question. The third example is the Myers-Briggs personality test that differentiates between the characteristics of a person in terms of attitudes, functions, and lifestyles.

Objective Personality Assessment

Objective personality tests are used with the assumption that those providing information about an individual can be more effective in explaining behaviors better than the researcher. The validity and reliability of such tests have been attributed to them being relatively free of bias because of the lack of influence from their own beliefs of examiners (Reynolds & Suzuki, 2012). As the previous experiences and behaviors of respondents contribute to the validity of objective personality tests, it is essential for researchers to ensure that the providers of information the required degree of expertise to provide answers to questions in the tests.

However, according to Wagner-Menghin (2004), the content validity of objective personality tests cannot be ensured in all cases because the structure of the task does not align with the variables involved in the exploration.

It is important to mention that despite the fact that objective personality tests have widespread use, research on the topic of their validity and reliability is highly limited. While there is an agreement that the tests present high levels of efficacy due to the absence of bias, a detailed appraisal of the characteristics is lacking. For instance, Reynolds and Suzuki (2012) concluded that unbiased psychological assessments represent the primary method of collecting reliable information about subjects. Although, the findings of Wagner-Menghin (2004) are not specific enough for making conclusions regarding the validity and reliability of objective personality tests. Further research on this topic is needed to have a perspective on the reliability and validity of objective personality assessments.

Both cultural and social variability can have an influence on the administration and interpretation; however, research on this issue is highly limited. However, according to the Committee on Psychological Testing (2015), it is imperative to understand the ethnic, racial, gender, educational, age, and linguistic characteristics in the use and selection of psychological tests. Cultural validity plays a vital role in this issue as it shows the extent to which the procedures and content of the assessment reflect the sociocultural context within which a subject is being tested.

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Projective Personality Assessment

Projective personality assessment represents the type of appraisal in which an individual is expected to offer responses to a set of ambiguous images, scenes, and words. The principal objective of such assessments is to determine the presence of any hidden conflicts and emotions that an individual projects onto the test. The term “projective” in the definition of the test defines the necessity of a subject to use the conscious mind to project the feelings and emotions when creating an answer. This can introduce biases and untruths to the assessment process because some subjects may want to receive their test providers. For instance, individuals may give answers to appear more socially acceptable and desirable despite the real representation being different.

Projective tests work through asking questions or developing stimuli that are unclear while the subject of the assessment should reveal unconscious attitudes and motivations. The first example is the Rorschach Inkblot test, which was the first projective test developed. Subjects are presented with a set of ink images and are expected to explain what they have seen in the images. The Thematic Apperception Test is the second example and is completed by presenting subjects with ambiguous scenes, followed by asking them to tell a story describing the scenes. The story is then scored based on the motivations, needs, and anxieties of the key character. The third example is the Draw-A-Person test, which implies drawing a person, with the image being assessed by an examiner. The interpreter of the test looks at multiple factors of the drawing, including the size of specific details and features.

The critical assumption of projective personality tests is that the ambiguity of stimuli would reveal information that subjects may be hiding. The fact that the images or stimuli used in projective tests can have multiple meanings, subjects may be less able to rely on their critical thinking and be able to provide straightforward questions. In terms of the validity and reliability of projective personality tests, there are certain issues. There is a high possibility of biases because the attitudes and perspectives of examiners can influence the testing.

Since scoring procedures are highly subjective, the interpretations of responders’ answers can vary from one interpreter to another, which presents significant challenges to the reliability of the findings. Therefore, it is challenging to ensure that the interpretations of respondents’ answers are correct and can be applied for making diagnostic decisions in the future. Instead, it is recommended to use projective personality tests in the form of explanatory tools in psychotherapy instead of relying on them to identify though disabilities and disorders.

Scholars have invested in the measurement of validity and reliability of projective personality tests to determine the challenges associated with their application. For example, Gruber and Kreuzpointner (2013) evaluated the reliability of the Thematic Apperception Test, concluding that the scores for internal consistency were inadequate in the majority of exercises that imply picture stories. In order to address the problem of reliability, the researchers mentioned the integration of category-based scores instead of picture-based scores. The Rorschach test was also evaluated in terms of its validity and reliability, and the positive feedback regarding both factors could only be reached if specific conditions are met.

The first condition is that the test is administered by a trained and competent examiner with experience in performing the assessment. The second condition implies the use of a structured and known method of assessment, the most common of which is the Comprehensive System. The third condition for ensuring the reliability and validity of the Rorschach test is the application of the assessment to a suitable population with an appropriate purpose of reaching a diagnosis for which validity can be demonstrated.

Synthesis, Conclusions, and Recommendations

A client presented with increased concerns for depression and anxiety attacks that developed as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder associated with a car accident. The client is thirty-one years old, female, Caucasian, and an English speaker. Significant mental health considerations include social anxiety experienced during school and university years. The individual has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which is characterized by weight gain, fatigue, muscle weaknesses, muscle aches, impaired memory, and depression. This means that there is physical condition of the subject contributes to her declining psychological. Therefore, a psychological assessment of the patient using either projective or objective personality tests is needed to evaluate the individual’s condition.

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Since the individual has shown to struggle with depression and anxiety, it is important to choose the type of personality assessment that would fit her needs. An objective personality test may be the right choice in this case because it offers the opportunity for the client herself to provide a perspective on her situation and thus to ensure a simple insight into her personality. Scoring and evaluating will also be more accessible because of the absence of bias on the part of an analyst. For example, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) can be used in the client’s case to assist in the diagnosis of her mental disorders and select appropriate intervention methods (Handel & Archer, 2008).

However, objective personality tests imply the possibility that the person that is being assessed would not tell the complete tool. A projective personality test presents more challenges; although, it can still be implemented. Despite offering a high degree of bias, a projective test may reveal the client’s both conscious and unconscious needs. The Rorschach test can be applied because of its unexpected implications for practice.

The MMPI-2 is beneficial in the client’s case because of its ability to cover a wide range of issues in an efficient and direct way (Sellbom, Anderson, & Badby, 2013). It will also offer a perspective of the client’s attitude on test-taking and thus will reveal the possibility of problems” exaggeration. However, the test is not specifically sensitive to certain psychopathology forms. The Rorschach test can be used for assessing the unconscious aspects of the client’s personality; however, there are significant challenges associated with validity and reliability.

In order to improve the validity of the selected personality assessments, it is imperative to ensure that the tests are performed by experienced analysts as well as that the client agrees to share the truth about her psychological state. Also, the objectives of the assessments should be developed prior to their implementation to ensure that the tests measure what they are supposed to measure. A person conducting the assessment should discuss the considerations of mental health with the client and explain that both projective and objective evaluations are implemented for the purpose of improving her mental health in the long run.


Committee on Psychological Testing. (2015). Psychological testing in the service of disability determination. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Gregory, R. J. (2014). Psychological testing: History, principles, and applications (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Gruber, N., & Kreuzpointner, L. (2013). Measuring the reliability of picture story exercises like the TAT. PloS one, 8(11), e79450.

Handel, R. W., & Archer, R. P. (2008). An investigation of the psychometric properties of the MMPI-2 Restructured Clinical (RC) Scales with mental health inpatients. Journal of Personality Assessment, 90(3), 239-249.

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Meyer, G., & Kurtz, J. (2007). Advancing personality assessment terminology: Time to retire “objective” and “projective” as personality test descriptors. Journal of Personality Assessment, 87(3), 223-225.

Reynolds, C., & Suzuki, L. (2012). Bias in psychological assessment: An empirical review and recommendations. Handbook of Psychology, 10. Web.

Sellbom, M., Anderson, J. L., & Bagby, R. M. (2013). Assessing DSM-5 Section III personality traits and disorders with the MMPI-2-RF. Assessment, 20(6), 709-722

U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. (2006). Testing and assessment: A guide to good practices for workforce investment professionals. Web.

Wagner-Menghin, M. (2004). Content validity of an objective personality test for the assessment of achievement motive. Psychology Science, 2, 259-280.

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